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First Listen: A Review Of The Chandler Limited TG OPTO / TG12345 MKIV EQ

For many years, Chandler Limited has been making some of the highest quality studio equipment available, and is the only company authorized to develop and manufacture the official equipment of EMI/Abbey Road Studios. Their brand new 500 Series modules, the Chandler Limited EMI TG Opto Compressor and Chandler Limited EMI TG12345 MKIV EQ, were recently announced ahead of AES 2017.  

Paring down elements of Chandler Limited’s TG1 OPTO and Curve Bender into two 500 Series modules, these new pieces trace their lineage back to the TG12345 console. This desk was used at Abbey Road Studios and provided the sounds behind countless hits records such as The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

I was very interested to see how these new modules would hold up to the full sized hardware. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a handful of Curve Benders and TG1 compressors over the last few years, every time I use one I’m amazed by how easy it is to dial in a tone that’s a great improvement on the original source.

The Curve Bender on the mix bus is like magic, it adds weight and punch in the low end and mid-range that allows you to do less work on each individual channel, then adding some top end opens up and widens the entire mix, just the Curve Bender alone can take a song from a demo to sounding like a mix.

The TG1 has to be one of the best compressors available for drums. It is extremely smooth when you’re using it to control the peak transients directly on the track, and even with extreme amounts of compression it can remain transparent. When using it as a parallel drum compressor, it adds so much life and excitement to the drum performance, bringing out all the nuances of the room and energy of the cymbals.

Check out our new demo videos of the Chandler Limited EMI TG Opto Compressor and EMI TG12345 MKIV EQ, then continue reading for our in-depth review of their feature set and performance.

TG12345 MKIV EQ
I started the demo with the TG12345 EQ. The TG12345 MKIV EQ is pretty much a single channel of the Curve Bender just laid out a little differently. You have eight selectable frequency bands to choose from and an out position. The first seven bands work in a bell curve, where the final band works at a shelf fixed at 10kHz. You then have the ability to boost or cut the selected frequency by 10dB.

The bass band is fixed as a shelf with two selectable frequencies of 90Hz and 150Hz, which can either be boosted or cut 10dB. Both ranges are very musical and can be used to clear out some rumble or muddiness in the low end, or add some punch, warmth and depth. A true bypass button is included so you can easily A/B pre and post EQ.

Bass Guitar
The first source I ran through the EQ was a bass guitar. It was a track that I recorded for a commercial project I did a few months back. I remember when I tracked the bass, I loved how great the tone sounded just by plugging my ’78 American P Bass directly into my Universal Audio 6176, and I don’t think I did anything to it when I did the final mix.

So I patched in the TG12345 and started dialing in a tone. Since the controls are so simple, it took about 20 seconds to get something that was much bigger and fatter than the original. I had a dry version of the bass on channel one of our Tree Audio Roots console and the EQ’d version on channel two so I could hit the mutes to pop back and forth between channels in the listening position.

From the second I went back and forth between those two channels, I was sold. I could not believe how good this EQ sounded and how effortless it was to get there. It added so much weight to the bass all on it’s own that would usually take multiple plug-ins. It also added apparent volume without increasing the input level to the console. I kept twisting the knobs to hear what else I could come up with, and no matter how much I boosted on any frequency, they all sounded great and better than the source material. Huge win for the TG12345 MKIV in this example.

Electric Guitar Solo
The second source I went to was an electric guitar solo pulled from a session I did with Nick Urb and his upcoming single “West Virginia”. The solo was recorded with a ’97 American Telecaster running through a JHS Colour Box into a ’65 Ampeg Gemini One. I used the Townsend Labs Sphere L22 microphone through my UA 6176, I didn’t use any modeling on the microphone for this example, just the raw sound of the L22.

The solo tone was meant to be recorded a little on the brighter side since the song reaches it’s highest level of intensity at that point, we wanted the electric to feel as if it were ripping through the speakers. With that in mind, I didn’t think I needed to boost any of the higher frequencies on the TG12345.

I started with dialing in the lower frequencies with the shelf on 150Hz. Just adding a couple dB on that lower band made the performance come to life. You could really feel all the attack on the notes, and also added a creaminess to all the double stops and pick rakes. I figured I might as well mess around with the higher band since I’m here, so without looking at what I was dialing in I just started turning knobs. I landed on a setting that was opening up the top end (that was already very bright) but wasn’t making the signal harsher to my ears. Same as with the bass guitar, the apparent volume was also increased without slamming the input to the desk.

I think the overall tone of the solo was greatly improved by the sound of the TG12345 MKIV, another huge win on this example.

Vocals
This is where I really heard the power of the TG12345. I used a vocal performance by Olivia Millerschin we tracked a few months ago for the Soyuz Bomblet demo video. The vocal chain used was a Soyuz Bomblet into a Shadow Hills GAMA preamp on the Steel transformer, then into an Undertone Audio UnFairchild with about -3dB of compression on the loudest peaks.

Olivia has one of the best voices I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, her pitch is always right on and her technique is flawless. The tune she was singing was pretty dynamic, but mostly in the mid-range to upper register of her vocal range.

So with the TG12345 I was looking to see if I could add some body to the overall performance and add a little more air to the top end. I started with the lower frequencies and set the low shelf to 150Hz. Just a couple dB of gain on the low shelf and all of a sudden the vocal was pumped full of new life. It brought out depth in the lower mid register without amplify any of the rumble from the room or making it sound cloudy in any way. Even if I boosted it all the way up (which in a track would probably be way too much) it still sounded great. The MKIV has a way of being smooth no matter the amount of gain you add.

For the high frequency band, I set it to a 10kHz shelf to try and open up the air in the top end. I just added a few dB and the vocal opened right up. A/B between the dry channel and the EQ’d channel was a night and day difference, like a sad face and a happy face. I loved how easy it was to get such a drastic difference in a vocal with the TG12345.

Drums
For the drum example, I used a mono overhead I recorded at the 45 Factory a few months ago for the new Ben Sharkey record. I used a vintage U67 over the kit around where the kick drum and snare drum meet, for the preamp I used a Shadow Hills GAMA on the nickel setting.

With the mono overhead technique, I like to pick up a lot of kick and snare with the microphone, it adds a nice real texture to the close microphones when everything is mixed together.

When first listening back to the track, I thought there was a nice balance of kick and snare, really curious to see how the TG12345 would improve that. I set the low shelf to 150Hz trying to pull some meat out of the snare drum and add a little punch to the kick drum. Just a few dB up and both of them were jumping out of the speakers.

The top band I set somewhere between 2.8kHz and 4.2kHz to bring out more of the snare and cymbal presence, and you guessed it, just a few dB up and the overall drum kit came to life. I think this mono overhead would be able to stand on it’s own in some cases as the sole drum tone for a final mix.

On every source I ran through the TG12345, it made great improvements to the original source material with ease. I highly recommend trying this EQ out for yourself, it has a way of breathing life into any source without ever making it sound unnatural or overbearing.

TG OPTO Compressor
This compressor is known for having one of the most transparent and smooth characteristics of compression on the market, but can also be over compressed to add depth and attitude to any source. It has some pretty simple controls for the “larger than life” sounds it can achieve, with Input, Output, Attack, Release and two knee selections.

Using the rounded knee, the compression is far less obvious, allowing it to control the source but seem transparent in the mix regardless of how hard you compress. With the sharp knee, the TG OPTO is capable of creating massive drum tone to add unlimited amounts of depth and attitude to any recording, also commonly used in parallel on drums and vocals.

Electric Bass
With the electric bass, I wanted to smooth the dynamics on the attack of the note and pull out some more sustain and overtone harmonics. I used the rounded knee setting with the slowest attack and fastest release possible. I dialed in the input so the compressor was hitting around -5dB to -7dB on the loudest peaks, then dialed the output back down to match the original level hitting the console.

Within a matter of seconds, I arrived at a sound that was far bigger and fuller than the original source material. The transients of the attack were nice and smooth and the notes had more sustain. I could also hear more nuances of the harmonic content in the bass, especially in the slides between notes. Same as the EQ, the TG OPTO has a way of adding depth and apparent volume to the source without actually making the level noticeably higher to the desk. I think the TG OPTO is a secret weapon for making something stand in the forefront of any mix.

Electric Guitar Solo
For the solo, I was looking to even out all the dynamics and make every note equally as powerful. In the final mix for this tune, the solo comes in at the highest point of the song and is meant to be an explosion of sound.

I set the compressor to the rounded knee with the slowest attack, but backed the release down a bit so the compressor would hold on a little longer. I set the input to make the compression average around -5dB or so throughout the solo, then matched the output gain to hit around the same level as the dry track on the desk.

Once the compressor was engaged, it seemed as if all the notes were right at the front of the speaker. The solo ranges from the lowest part of the neck up to the 15th fret on the higher strings, so in the raw recording, the lower strings had some power, but some of that was lost when moving to the higher register.

The TG OPTO did exactly what I wanted it to do. You could feel the attack of the pick on each string. The double stop notes became meaner and fatter, and the higher notes had some weight in the low end. It brought the solo right to the front of the mix and over the rest of the track.

Vocals
For the vocal example, I wanted to see how transparent I could get the compression with extreme amounts of gain reduction on a stand alone vocal performance. I used the rounded knee setting with the slowest attack, but kept the release dialed back a bit so it would hold a little longer. I had the compression hitting between -10dB and -15dB, which in most cases would be too much in the final mix, but I was curious to see how it sounded.

I think even at this extreme of a setting, the compression wasn’t overbearing. There really isn’t a point where you hear the pumping effect of the compression, even hitting -15dB on certain notes, it never becomes too obvious. It was pulling out a lot of low end of the vocal similar to how I had the EQ dialed in before, and was smoothing out the dynamics of the performance to make it smooth and even all the way through.

This is one of the smoothest compressors I’ve heard while applying this amount of gain reduction. It proved to me that the TG OPTO could easily be used subtly or to the extreme no matter what kind of track you’re working on, and no matter how hard you push it, will remain transparent while getting the job done.

Drums
For the drum example, I wanted to dial in a tone similar to the extreme compression you get from the TG1 or Zener limiter. I used the sharp knee with the slowest attack and a slower release so the compression wouldn’t ever fully let go. I was hitting between -10 and -16dB of gain reduction on just about every hit.

The drums were recorded in a fairly small room that’s treated very well. We have a lot of insolation in and on the walls to avoid any unnecessary ringing or overtones, as well as diffusers on the ceiling. The drums sound real and natural in the room, but there isn’t any noticeable reverb or room ambiance. If there’s one thing I had to say shined the most on this compressor, this example would have to be it. I couldn’t believe what the TG OPTO did to this mono overhead.

Once the compressor was engaged, the drum take went from sounding like it was flat in a small room to performing in a concert hall. It brought out the air moving in the room, making the drums sound as if they were much bigger and tracked in a larger space. The kick and snare had noticeable improvements to their punch and sustain. The cymbal crash felt like it was wrapping around the speakers, but the attack was gently smoothed out so it wasn’t overbearing when it hit.

I probably wouldn’t use this extreme setting directly on the overhead in the final mix of this particular song, but I do think it would work wonders in heavier rock and pop music. I would however use this in parallel on the kit, I think if blended in to the dry sound of the drums, this over compressed version would add the perfect amount of life and ambience to the performance.

In the end, I think both the TG12345 MKIV and the TG OPTO are huge wins for Chandler Limited. Both units were very easy to use, and no matter how hard I pushed them, I was achieving a better tone than the source material.

The TG12345 MKIV is priced at $1,095, great bargain for that sweet Curve Bender sound and how quickly you’ll be able to improve whatever you run through it. The low frequency shelf alone is worth adding to the collection. The TG OPTO is priced at $1,195, a fraction of the price of the larger rack mount units that share the same sonic characteristics.

If you have any questions about the TG12345, TG OPTO or other Chandler Limited products, be sure to contact your Audio Consultant at Vintage King via email or phone at 888.653.1184. 

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